Artistic expression in hip-hop starts with the music and extends to everything from clothing to style. Fashion and hip-hop are forever intertwined. The many different looks that artists rock on album covers, in music videos and on the streets have been emulated by fans and fellow rappers alike. Since coolness is currency, artists both old and new step out in clothes that represent who they are. On the other side of that, clothing is also commerce just like the music. The way that the two can be blended seamlessly in this sense is with artist's merch, clothing or products that represent the creator of the songs. The art of grabbing people's attention in this way usually leads to sales and other forms of commercial success, but it can also lead to some controversial ideas in the process. These controversial hip-hop shirts cause backlash as well.
Some rappers create controversy by making political statements with their merch, as both Kanye West and YG did. Kanye's Confederate flag-adorned shirts from his Yeezus tour in 2013 made headlines since the flag is considered by many, including Ye himself, to be a symbol of American slavery. Ever-defiant, the Chicago rapper's goal was to make the flag his own, but it isn't clear if he really hit that mark.
YG's foray into the political arena with his 2016 single "FDT," which stands for "Fuck Donald Trump," continued when he named his tour that later in the year. The tour shirts featured the artists that were taking part in the cross-country romp—YG, RJ, Kamaiyah and Sad Boy—in a car, middles fingers extended with "Fuck Donald Trump" displayed below them. YG's label and brand 4hunnid also sold a controversial hoodie featuring a pantless Trump holding a KKK member wearing American flag garb from behind.
Other merch shirts are just attempts to troll the naysayers. Lil Nas X's tee, designed to promote his single "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)," laughs right in the face of people who were disturbed by the song's video. In the video, Nas X slides down a stripper pole from Heaven to Hell, where he gives the devil a lap dance then takes over Hell. One of the two shirts Nas X released reads, "I watched the 'Montero' video by Lil Nas X and all I got was this lousy shirt and now I'm also gay and love Satan." Clearly, this shirt was designed to poke at all the criticism he received. On the less clever end, 6ix9ine promoted his 2020 song "Punani" by releasing a neon-colored polo with "Punani" in large lettering.
Check out all the controversial merch that grandmas across the world probably wouldn't approve of below.
See Controversial Hip-Hop Shirts
Kanye West's Confederate Flag Merch
As a part of the merch offerings for his 2013 Yeezus Tour, Kanye West whipped up shirts and other gear with the Confederate flag on it. The flag is perceived by many as a symbol of America's racist, slavery-supported past. Since it was Kanye at the center of this, the reception of the merch was pretty polarizing. The man himself responded to the backlash in October of that year. "You know the confederate flag represented slavery in a way," he said to Los Angeles radio station 97.1 AMP in 2013. "That's my abstract take on what I know about it. So I made the song 'New Slaves.’ So I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It's my flag now. Now what are you going to do?"
Virgil Abloh, who was Kanye's creative director at the time, went on Instagram and wrote, "Our mama's were raised in an era when… The touring merchandise collection of thoughts. Doors open in 1 hour. #yeezustour #weslang," along with a photo of a skeleton wearing the flag and holding a scythe. Some fans weren't please. "Unrockable" and "I dont want any redneck flag shit on my apparel……" were just some of the comments.
YG's Fuck Donald Trump Tour Merch
In the fall of 2016, YG embarked on his headlining Fuck Donald Trump Tour, alongside Kamaiyah, RJ and Sad Boy. The tour was titled after YG's hit song at the time, "FDT," which also featured the late Nipsey Hussle. There were shirts sold at the merch table, amongst others, which displayed the image above, depicting all the rappers on the tour with their middle fingers up toward the then-President-to-be. YG also sold a wild hoodie through his 4hunnid website. The hoodie included an image of Trump with no pants standing behind a KKK member on all fours.
Lil Nas X's "Montero" Merch
Lil Nas X makes waves by simply being himself. Back in March of 2021, Nas X dropped "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)," complete with a video in which he travels from Heaven to Hell via stripper pole, only to give Satan a lap dance and take over Hell. The video created a bunch of controversy, and Nas played into it by releasing these merch shirts a few weeks later. The most eye-catching of the two tees is the one that reads, "I watched the 'Montero' video by Lil Nas X and all I got was this lousy shirt and now I'm also gay and love Satan." Lil Nas X's tongue-in cheek approach to all backlash always seems to work in his favor.